12.1.21

IT'S ALL TOO MUCH by David Stark


The well-known cliché amongst those of us for whom publishing books about rock was a way of life is that everyone who ever met The Beatles feels compelled to write a book about them. I must be an exception. I met John seven times, Paul eight and George once but failed to encounter Ringo at all, and the fact that I can recall all of these meetings quite distinctly must mean something or other. However, it obviously means a whole lot more to David Stark, publisher and editor of SongLink International magazine, whose long-term ongoing mission in life seems to have been to ambush The Beatles, collectively or individually, whenever and wherever possible, a bit Forrest Gumpish in some respects except that, unlike Tom Hank’s loveable but rather dim creation, David limits his encounters with defining figures of the 20th Century to Beatles only.

        David’s account of all this is an enjoyable ride for fans of the group, a sort of autobiography written around his love for them and myriad bids to end up in their company, sometimes by chance, more often by good management. A fortuitous encounter with Clive Epstein, brother of Brian, during a family vacation at Torquay in 1964 gets the ball rolling, and offers David a name to drop after he’s caught interloping at the 1968 premiere of Yellow Submarine. Having successfully evaded security by entering the cinema via its roof, he gets lucky when Keith Richard tells him Mick won’t require the next seat to his, so David plops himself down behind John Lennon to watch the film. Such ingenuity warrants high praise indeed. 

        And so the stage is set and we’re off, with David fondly recalling each and every encounter he’s ever had with The Fabs, most of them post-split of course; watching concerts, getting backstage, at receptions and awards ceremonies, in the street, on their doorsteps, just about everywhere you can imagine apart from their bedrooms. Naturally, he’s met – and writes about – peripheral figures from the Beatles’ circle too; family, friends, management, support staff and collaborators, many of them almost as well known now as The Beatles themselves, not to mention many other successful rock musicians, though there is no mention among the book’s 182 pages of any pets, Martha the sheepdog and her successors having evidently eluded David’s relentless quest. 

        Some such encounters are more interesting than others. I wish he’d taped his conversations with Aunt Mimi in 1981 when he spent a weekend at Sandbanks near Poole, twice visiting the home of the eldest of the Stanley sisters into whose care young John Winston was bestowed at the tender age of four. “He did come back to see me, secretly, in disguise,” she told David after he inquired whether she’d seen John since he left the UK for America in 1971. If true, this is a genuine scoop but David – like everyone else – believes it to be wishful thinking on Mimi’s part.

        Having worked in various capacities in the music business since he decided in 1974 that estate agenting wasn’t his bag, David henceforth found it much easier to meet and/or attend concerts by Paul, George & Ringo, so the second half of the book lacks the creative subterfuge of the early encounters. Meeting Paul in a professional capacity or watching him on stage aren’t anywhere near as compelling to read about as bumping into him outside a café in St John’s Wood. Still, David seems never to have missed a single London concert by Paul or Ringo, or a tribute show like the Concert For George in 2002; he regularly attends Beatle fan conventions, auction room sales of Beatles memorabilia and gatherings like Beatle-related Blue Plaque unveilings; and he plays drums in a Travelling Wilburys tribute act called The Trembling Wilburys. In short, nothing much escapes him and if the name dropping occasionally gets a bit much, well that is the title of the book after all. 

        Finally, I must declare an interest since it was I who introduced David to the publisher, for which I am duly thanked. Largely uncritical and steering well clear of anything remotely controversial, It’s All Too Much is a brisk read and unlikely to make it onto any list of thought-provoking or even revealing Beatle books, but as one man’s journey through life with The Beatles as his guide, mentor and deity, it does just fine.


7.1.21

CHAS CHANDLER INTERVIEW - October, 1972

This is the interview I did with Chas Chandler that was published in Melody Maker in October, 1972. 


“We gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do.

"We gotta get out of this place, girl there’s a better life for me and you.”

— Written by Cynthia Weill & Barry Mann, recorded by The Animals, 1965.


Brian James Chandler, who will be 34 in December and who has been called Chas since his schooldays, is learning to play the guitar again.

        His reason this time around is simple — Father Christmas is bringing his three-year-old son a guitar next Christmas and Chas has to be the teacher. Chandler Junior is already well into rock: he can sing along to Slade and some of The Beatles, but he doesn’t seem to like Jimi Hendrix. He likes Ray Charles but only because dad recommends it.

        It’s not surprising that Chandler Senior has this influence on his son. Chas Chandler was the original bass player with The Animals which taught him as much about the rock business as Georgie Best knows about football. From there he went on to discover, produce and manage Jimi Hendrix and now he’s managing Slade, the hottest property to arrive on the rock scene for a long while.

        For a one-time docker in the Newcastle shipyards, Chandler has put a real meaning into the words of the old Animals’ hit. Now he lives in a rambling country mansion on the road to Eastbourne and has offices in Mayfair.

        He lives, he says, for the present and the future but it’s the past that has taught him all he knows. He can recall a list of names of businessmen to trust and with whom he has dealt – and he can reel off a bigger list of characters who are crooks, swindlers and conmen. It would be very hard to swindle Mr Chandler today.

        In his youth Chas’s main preoccupation was avoiding conscription. To this end he enrolled for engineering college where he learned to design power stations. On the day conscription ended he quit college and worked on the docks. He was docking by day and playing in a variety of Newcastle clubs by night.

        Various combinations of the five musicians who became The Animals played together before the band was formed, and docking seemed much less attractive. Eventually docking occurred on Sunday afternoons only — with double pay for the same amount of work.

        Towards the end of 1963 The Animals came down to London to find work. Eight months previously Chas had been sacked from the shipyards for irregular hours. He’d play music all night and go straight to work in the mornings and work suffered the most.

        On arrival in London, the Animals met Mickie Most who wanted to produce their records. The first one ‘Baby, Let Me Take You Home’ was a hit and three years of being an Animal began. It was, says Chas, three years of total lunacy – working every night, touring all the time and never knowing who to trust.

        “We were green, so green we hardly knew what was happening to us. We just did what we were told and so long as we had enough money to live on it didn’t matter.”

        ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ was their second record and biggest hit. It was also a massive hit in America and The Animals became the third British group to cross the Atlantic – after The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five.

        “We spent the money so fast we never had time to sit down and count it. We were screwed here and screwed in America. We had a big turnover but no capital and we always stayed in the best hotels. Then, one day in Ireland, we just decided to drop the whole thing.”

        Alan Price was the first Animal to leave. Price has a phobia about flying and he opted out of a Scandinavian tour at the last minute and went home to Newcastle. Mick Gallagher was brought in as a temporary replacement and Dave Rowberry, who is with The Kinks today, became Price’s permanent replacement. Next to go was Johnny Steele, the drummer, who went home to Newcastle and who, today, is Chandler’s assistant.

        “Eric (Burdon) and I were starting to get wise to things,” says Chas. “We had done our own production deal by this time but the whole thing was still crazy. One night we just decided to quit – we would carry out all the engagement booked and no more.

        “I didn’t want to stay a bass player all my life or play one ever again at that moment. I hadn’t a clue what to do but we all knew The Animals were over.”

        The last few months of The Animals, says Chas, were their best days. There were no tensions or arguments as all the band knew it was over. It was during this period that they made what Chas considers to be their best record ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’.”

        “During the last eight months our only objective was really to make some money while we still had the chance. It was a question of grabbing what we could before it was all over.”

        It was during the last Animals tour of America that Chas met Jimi Hendrix. “I was asked to go to the Cafe Wah? in Greenwich Village and see him and that was it. I had thought about producing records and this was the man I wanted to produce.”

        When The Animals finally split Chas came back to New York and brought Hendrix back to London. He had just £1,400 to show from his days with the group and he grabbed most of this during the closing months.

        During the next three years he managed Hendrix and produced his records until a point was reached where Jimi no longer wanted to work. They parted company amicably and Chas, who had improved substantially on his £1,400 by this time, was out of work again. In the three years with Hendrix he was married and his wife, Lotte, was expecting Chandler Junior. For most of the time he had shared a flat with Hendrix which was rented from Ringo Starr, but the time was now ripe to move out to the country.

        After four months Chas joined the Robert Stigwood Organisation with no specific role. “By this time I had become very hardened and learned a lot about the business. I was supposed to look for new acts with Stigwood and do some record production.

        “One day I had a call from a guy who told me about this group called Slade and that they wanted a manager. I went down to see them at the Rasputin Club in London and they knocked me out. I was as impressed when I first saw Slade as I was when I first saw Jimi Hendrix.

        “I wanted to find something different from the blues. The Animals had been mainly blues, and Jimi was the same thing but Slade just had a ball on stage. After watching them work I had to sign them.”

        Chas signed them up and shortly afterwards left Stigwood to form his own company and concentrate entirely on Slade. He has no plans to manage any other acts.

        “Slade were very young when I first met them – much younger than the Animals when we came to London – and they were getting screwed just like we had been. As far as publicity was concerned they weren’t very successful in the early days but they were still earning good money. The business took every opportunity to knock them because of the skinhead thing, but they were slowly building up a very big following.”

        Slade, originally on the Fontana label, switched to Polydor and the rest of the story is too recent to recount again. America is Slade’s next goal and already they have received rave reviews around the country – unlike T. Rex. 

        “Slade are far and away better musicians than The Animals ever were,” says Chas. “Hilton Valentine couldn’t play a guitar like Dave Hill and I could never hope to be able to play bass as well as Jim Lea. I have a guitar now and I bring it out once a year.

        “My attitude as a manager is to get as much success and as much money for the act I am managing, and my experiences as a musician have helped me a lot. I never try to analyse my own actions which are mainly inspirations based on experience. That’s how I picked up Slade.”


6.1.21

CHAS CHANDLER – 25 YEARS SINCE


Chas Chandler, right, with Johnny Steel, the Animals' drummer who became Chas's right man when Chas managed Slade. Photographer unknown.

Referencing Chas Chandler in a Slade-related Facebook post a few days ago led me into thinking more about Slade’s larger than life manager and to seek out an interview I did with him in 1972 when Slade were riding high. Headlined ‘Slade Driver’, it was published in Melody Maker in October that year, by which time Chas and I had become good friends. I’ll post it verbatim tomorrow, but first a few thoughts on the Slade Driver. 

        Of course, my friendship with Chas wouldn’t have arisen had I not been on the staff of Melody Maker and he hadn’t been managing one of the most successful bands in the UK, but in the time I knew him – roughly from 1970 to 1976 – I came to like him a lot. I admired his ‘never-give-up’ attitude towards managing Slade, his relentless positivity and dedication to their cause. He was a big bloke, well over six foot and brawny with it, and while not as confrontational as, say, Led Zep’s manager Peter Grant, it would be unwise to utter a disparaging word about Slade in his presence, especially if he’d had a few drinks.

        “They’re like a fookin’ breath of fresh eayer,” he kept telling me the first time I encountered Slade at that Samantha’s disco off Regent Street in 1970. He was yelling that into my ear all through the gig. He had to yell. The band on stage were always deafeningly loud. 

        “The band bloody worshipped Chas from the word go,” tour manager Graham ‘Swin’ Swinnerton told me when I was researching my Slade book. He was right. Hanging around with the five of them in the early seventies, especially before the hits started coming, it was easy to detect the group’s admiration for their manager, this devoted Geordie who would scream about them from the rooftops if he thought it would advance their career.

        “He was strong at dealing with us and he was strong at dealing with the record company,” Noddy told me in 2005, a decade after Chas had left us. “He had so much confidence in us it wasn’t true.” When Chas told him and Jim to buckle down and write some songs they did just that, fearful that Chas might drop them if they didn’t. “We’d have done anything to avoid that,” added Nod.

        “He was one of those big men with unlimited energy who’d sweep you along with the force of his conviction,” wrote his great friend Keith Altham in an obituary that appeared in Mojo magazine. At Chas’s funeral Keith told the congregation about a plan Chas had to link Perth and Sydney by canal. No project, however unlikely, was too big for Chas to contemplate.

        Chas Chandler was a man of the world, well-travelled, well versed in the ways of the music business and pretty much fearless, well able to look after himself in a tight situation. He told me he once spent a night in jail in America after punching a cop backstage at a Jimi Hendrix concert. Another time, in New York, we were riding around in a limousine together when he asked the driver to take us down to the Bowery where he might find a lady of the night to keep him company. He knew precisely where to find such a companion but failed in his mission, largely because his thick Geordie accent was incomprehensible. “Alreet luv. ’Ow’s it gan hinny?” he said to the startled girl. “Are ya doin’ buzzziness?” She looked at him like he was from Mars. I had to laugh. 

        Like Peter Grant, Chas was a manager from the old school who led from the front, placed a high premium on the security of his charges and didn’t like to miss a gig. Equally importantly, he was always one for the big gesture, something that would attract publicity, a move that would get Slade noticed. “Ya can be the best fookin’ band in the fookin’ world but if no one knows about it who gives a fookin’ toss?” he said. 

        That was why, at PR Keith Altham’s suggestion, he persuaded them to become skinheads in late 1969. He knew the papers would latch on to this as a story and although there was a bit of a backlash, it worked. Then again it might not have worked had Slade not been such an experienced, well-drilled live act. A gimmick and a bit of silly press can only get you so far but if you don’t have the chops to back it up you’re doomed. Slade had chops to spare. 

        In 1972 Chas lived with his lovely Swedish wife Lotte and young son Stefan in a fine detached house at Lingfield, about 25 miles directly south of London, not far from Gatwick Airport. I remember driving down there to do this interview on a Sunday afternoon, eating dinner and spending the night chez Chandler since the booze we drank rendered me hopelessly incapable of driving back to London. Chas liked his booze and fags, and he liked to smoke joints, big ones too, but I never saw him do any stronger drugs. 

        Although he was the bass player for The Animals he didn’t rate himself much as a musician and once told me he’d be embarrassed to play in front of Jim Lea. He looked on his time with The Animals as an apprenticeship for a far greater mission, managing Jimi Hendrix and then Slade. Like many acts in the sixties, The Animals were ripped off wholesale and he made sure the same thing didn’t happen to Slade. 

        I stood next to Chas at the side of the stage at Earls Court on July 1, 1973. He’d been made aware of the problems that David Bowie suffered in the same venue on May 12, the first time Earls Court had hosted a rock show. Bowie’s PA system was inadequate, the acoustics were terrible and the band performed at floor level, all of which led to serious crowd disturbances and could probably be blamed on Bowie’s management skimping on costs. Chas was having none of that for Slade, who became only the second act to headline Earls Court. Midway through the show, as we gazed out at 18,000 Slade fans having the time of their lives, he was yelling into my ear, just like he did way back when at Samantha’s: “All yee’ve got to do in a place like this is to build a big fookin’ stage and light it properly. And get a decent fookin’ PA. It’s as fookin’ simple as that.”

        As everyone knows, the night was a triumph. 

        The last time I saw Chas was around 1994 at Champneys, a private health club on Piccadilly in central London. He’d lost weight, was pasty faced and looked much older than I remembered him. If he was unwell, he certainly wasn’t there to improve his physical fitness – heaven forbid – but because it had a posh members-only bar and restaurant. Keith Altham had set up a meeting, the purpose of which was an attempt on my part to persuade Chas to write his life story. (Keith had set up all the interviews for my Feel The Noize! book.) I knew Chas read a lot, science fiction mostly, and I half succeeded insofar as he promised to think about it. In the event he died two years later and it never happened but I often wonder whether he made a start on it. If he did, it never came to light. 

        By this time Chas had moved back to the north east and settled down with his second wife, Madeline Stringer, a former Miss UK, with whom he had two daughter, in the coastal town of Cullercoats. A few miles east of Newcastle, this was where I attended his funeral on July 22, 1996. He had devoted the last few years of his life to his role in the creation of what is now the Utilita Arena Newcastle, the largest concert and exhibition venue in the North East, which had opened in 1995. By all accounts he put as much effort into this as he did as Slade’s manager, learning all about the construction business with the same dedication he put into handling their career. 

       Unfortunately, no one thought to erect statue of Chas outside. 


I’ll post my interview with Chas tomorrow. 


3.1.21

SLADE – CUM ON FEEL THE HITZ


I have resisted buying Cum On Feel The Hitz – The Best Of Slade, the most recent hits compilation by my favourite Wolverhampton band, largely because I already have three hits CDs by Slade, all of which are accompanied by my sleeve notes, but they didn’t ask me this time around. I know I am out of favour with their management for crimes against what I’ll term 21st Century Slade Revisionism but, in any case, I’d probably have found it hard to write something different from all the other sleeves notes I’ve written in the past.

        My part-time job as Slade's go-to man for sleeve-note writing began in 1972 with Slayed, on the back of which were the first I did for anyone. Chas paid me £20 by cheque, which is about £250 in today’s money, not bad for about 300 words. Then came the hits albums, the first Slade: Wall Of Hits, released in 1991; the second Slade Greatest Hits: Feel The Noize (1997); and the third The Very Best Of Slade (2005), this last one – like the most recent – a double CD. This had my most extensive notes of the three and benefited from an interview I did with Noddy in the bar at the Landmark Hotel on Marylebone Road in London. I think he’d come down from Cheshire specially to meet up with me so I could cobble together something new. Nevertheless, I was pissed off when the CD came out because whoever designed the booklet had opted to use tiny white type on a silver background, thus rendering my notes illegible unless you used a magnifying glass. Art direction and design were credited to someone who went by a single name – ‘Peacock’ – so if anyone knows who he or she is, please communicate my displeasure. 

        Come to think of it, my Slade sleeve-note tally could arguably amount to five because a quote from me, dated 23/12/70, appeared on the fold-out sleeve of the original Slade Alive! “… on stage Slade are one of the few groups who work hard to entertain an audience, they have a long future ahead of them and plenty of time to develop their exciting style.” That’s actually a bastardised version of my prediction in Melody Maker  recently posted here on Facebook  that Slade would be one of 1971’s top bands. (Trivia fans might like to know that a couple of inches below that is a quote from Leon Hickman of the Bradford Telegraph & Argus. In 1968 Leon and I worked together on the T&A and between us we produced the paper’s first ever weekly pop page, my first stab at music writing.)

        In considering whether or not to buy the new compilation I spent an hour looking over the other three Slade hits CDs on my shelf, all of which were probably given to me by Slade’s record company in return for the notes I wrote, along with progressively larger remuneration. And though I say it myself, I’m still quite proud of my notes for the first of these for Wall Of Hits (not Hitz!). It was 39 years ago that I first identified an issue that still rankles with me and many Slade fans today. 

        “As the pop music industry reaches its hi-tech but insecure and rather overcrowded middle age,” I wrote, “statistics from earlier eras take on truly insurmountable proportions. Did The Beatles really have 22 top ten hits – including 17 chart toppers – in the seven years that followed their chart debut in 1963? Yes, they did. And in the decade that followed did Slade come the closest anyone ever has to emulating that? Yes, they did: 16 top 20 hits between 1971 and 1976 that included six number ones, three number twos and two number threes. No other UK act of the period, not T. Rex, not David Bowie, not Elton John nor any other ‘superstar’ act enjoyed such constituency; nor is such consistency feasible today.

“Two decades after the event, Slade remain the only act ever to enter the UK chart at number one with consecutive releases, a feat they accomplished three times in all.

“Despite these statistics, rock historians have been less than charitable to Slade. Their happy-go-lucky, good humoured personalities, their complete lack of pretension or political motivation and their generally irreverent attitude towards the art of rock were never likely to appeal to serious music critics, and there seems to have been a post-Slade conspiracy to place them in the file marked ‘trivial’; little more than an amusing footnote in the story of glam rock.

“This is unjust, not least because their success was by no means confined to their extraordinary run on the singles charts. Three of their albums topped the LP charts between 1972 and 1974 and a fourth, Slade Alive!, reached number two and stayed on the charts for an astonishing 58 weeks. Simultaneously Slade concerts filled the largest halls in the country, including a memorable sold out show at Earls Court that drew 18,000 fans. They were without question one of the most popular – and most competent – live rock acts this country has ever seen.” 

The charts don’t mean much now. In the 39 years since I wrote all that, Slade’s achievements have been surpassed by all and sundry. The boy band era that began with Take That saw all manner of fiddles – sorry, marketing strategies – that enabled single after single to enter the charts at number one. At one point it was so common that not to enter at number one was regarded as a failure. Sales of singles are a fraction of what they once were and when Top Of The Pops bit the dust no one much cared anymore. Still, it was nice to see Cum On Feel The Hitz – The Best Of Slade doing as well as it did, even if I didn’t buy a copy myself. 

By the way, who wrote the sleeve notes? 



27.12.20

McCARTNEY III


Reduced like everyone else to living under lockdown rules and regulations during 2020, Paul McCartney hunkered down at Hog Hill Mill, his private studio in the village of Icklesham, near his Peasmarsh farm in East Sussex, to record a third solo album in the strict sense of the term. Aside from the front cover design and photographs by his daughter Mary, he does everything on McCartney III; writes, plays and produces, and like the two previous albums that bore his name alone, it’s a varied assortment that’s been creeping up on me since I found it beneath the tree on Christmas morning.

        My relationship with post-Beatle Paul is by no means all-embracing. I gave up somewhere along the line, probably around the time of ‘Mull Of Kintyre’, and it’s been patchy ever since. In 1971 I was given Ram to review on Melody Maker and was a bit sniffy, writing: “I expected his solo albums to be better than those of his three former colleagues. Unfortunately, this is not the case. His first solo effort, with the exception of one track (‘Maybe I’m Amazed’) completely lacked the McCartney magic and now his second, called simply Ram, although much better than the first, fails, in my opinion, to match up to those of Harrison and Lennon.”

        Paul didn’t take offence and I was invited to interview him and Linda while they were recording the follow up, Wild Life, another bitty affair. Only later did I conclude that ‘Dear Friend’ from that LP was as lovely as anything he’d ever written, and the same now goes for ‘Uncle Albert’/‘Admiral Halsey’, a ‘Playful Paul segue that has become my favourite track from Ram. Many such post-Beatle McCartney songs have a tendency to hide away like sleeper agents before belatedly announcing hidden virtues that were somehow lost on early hearings. Of course, the same cannot be said of the imperious Band On The Run, which I played to death, but thereafter, disappointed, I began to lose interest. More recently I chanced my arm with Flaming Pie, Chaos And Creation In The Backyard and New with mixed results, only the odd song standing out. If the true test of an album is how often it is played after the first few weeks of ownership, then none of those three really made the grade. 

        Meanwhile Paul had reclaimed The Beatles as his own, performing concerts in vast stadiums where his crack band reproduce that magnificent catalogue of songs in all their glory, every guitar lick in place, every vocal inflection and background harmony as near perfect as you would expect from this consummate professional. Audiences loved it, and though the odd new song was occasionally introduced into his repertoire, like so many genuine legends of his vintage he found himself embarking on two separate careers, one as a composer of new songs and the other as a performer of old ones. 

        So, what to make of McCartney III? The omens are good. The opener, the largely instrumental ‘Long Tailed Winter Bird’ has a Celtic flavour, with crisp descending acoustic guitar lines winding down into a rhythmic stew where a bodhrán and even a hint of Africa might be lurking. It’s a bold, un-McCartney-esque start. ‘Find My Way’, which follows, is a return to more familiar territory, a pleasing pop melody that, while not a single as such, has been illustrated by a split-screen video that shows the master at his craft, on various keyboards, including – I think – a harpsichord, acoustic guitar, two electric guitars, drums, vocals, tape ops and, of course, that familiar Hofner bass. 

‘Pretty Boys’, the first of four acoustic ballads herein, might be a comment on the vacuity of boy bands recruited solely on the strength of their looks – ‘They can talk but they never say much’ – but McCartney has never been one to throw daggers in that direction, so I’ll sit back and enjoy its simple, effective melody. The mood drops for ‘Women And Wives’, a sombre piano led piece that I suspect will grow on me, but shifts into the absurd for ‘Lavatory Lil’, a lapse in taste that’s probably a joke, a sort of ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road’ sequel about a shameless gold-digger, set to a monotonous blues beat shuffle. Indistinguished springs to mind. 

All is redeemed, however, on ‘Deep Deep Feeling’, the album’s centrepiece, a complex, eight-and-a-half minute exploration of McCartney’s gift for imaginative musical adventure. A meditation on the inexplicable nature of romantic love, it meanders through instrumental passages, tempo shifts and vocals that range from bass(ish) to falsetto, with an acoustic guitar coda as lovely as anything on the album.

Listening to McCartney in the 21st Century, there is sometimes a temptation to think, what would John have thought? Well, he’d have approved of ‘Slidin’’, a bluesy rocker with a touch of ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier’ from Imagine about it. The guitar riff sounds like something from the White Album sessions, and Paul offers up a truly great guitar solo to launch the final verse. 

‘The Kiss Of Venus’ is another pretty acoustic ballad, the kind of song McCartney seems to be able to knock off his sleep, while ‘Seize The Day’, which opens with a variation on Ray Charles’ ‘What’d I Say’ piano riff, is yet another example of pop perfection, its chorus the nearest thing to a sing-along on the album. ‘It’s still alright to be nice,’ sings Paul, in affirmation of the character trait he’s defended for so long.  

No McCartney album in the autumn of his years would be complete without a stab at experimentation and it arrives late in the day on ‘Deep Down’, a slow, synth-led, musical probe that’s more interesting musically than it is lyrically. Vocal lines intermingle over five minutes of electronic musing, and while Paul intones his need to party down it’s not what I'd call party music.

The album closes where it began, the guitar riff from ‘Long Tailed Winter Bird’ leading onto ‘When Winter Comes’, another gorgeous acoustic ballad, this one more gorgeous than ever in fact. Paul sings about the changing seasons from the point of a view of the farmer he’s become on his land at Peasmarsh, the view from the studio where McCartney III was recorded.

In 2020 Paul McCartney was to have headlined at Glastonbury, no doubt finishing his set with ‘Hey Jude’ or ‘Let It Be’ while 100,000 fans of all ages sang along with him and few million more watched it on TV. My clever daughter and a few of her friends somehow obtained tickets, and she’s hung on to them in the hope there’ll be a Glastonbury 2021. I hope she’s there at the end of June to hear Paul air some songs from McCartney III.  


19.12.20

THE BEE GEES, New York, December 1976.



A couple of nights ago I watched The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart, a two-hour documentary on Sky Atlantic that explores their fascinating, three-act, career. Act 1 takes place in London where, newly arrived from Australia, they became pop stars in 1968; Act 2 switches to New York where they became seventies disco stars – they’d prefer R&B, of course; and Act 3 sees them in Miami, plying their trade as songwriters while simultaneously recording and touring as a group. 

In between times there were ups and downs galore that all feature in the documentary. It reminded me that I interviewed them twice for Melody Maker, once in London and again in New York, and bumped into them occasionally at industry events. I never knew Andy but Maurice was the friendliest, Robin the quirkiest and Barry the most practical. It saddens me that Barry is the last brother standing, a circumstance brought home in the documentary as he gazes sadly across the Miami shoreline and declares that he'd swop all the hits to have his three brothers back with him. 

    The MM story below was published during Act 2, and includes the interview I did in a New York hotel room. 

A casual visitor to New York this month could be excused for thinking that The Bee Gees are currently running for elected office. The faces of the Brothers Gibb, serious and studied in their patriotic poses as World War Two flying aces, peer down from posters that are firmly fixed to the rear of each and every blue bus that traverses the streets and avenues of Manhattan.

        Some two weeks ago, in a flurry of publicity, the threesome was photographed with New York’s mayor, the diminutive Abe Beame, on the occasion of a luncheon at his official residence, Gracie Mansion. The city’s daily press carried the photographs, accompanied by a story that revealed the proceeds from the group’s concert at Madison Square Garden in December would be donated to the Police Athletic League, a charitable organisation that provides sports facilities for under-privileged children.

        Almost simultaneously the group opened a shop on 57th Street which is known as their “international headquarters”, where Bee Gees albums, tickets, posters and other artefacts are available in exchange for a few dollars.

        At the opening celebrations the three brothers stepped through a huge replica of a record album, arriving in the busy street where harassed policemen fought with a crowd of mainly teenage girls.

        To complement all this, The Bee Gees have spent most of the past month in a suite at the Sheraton Hotel on Seventh Avenue dispensing interviews to a constant stream of reporters, who arrive and depart on the hour like the trains at Grand Central Station.

        It has been a campaign worthy of a Presidential candidate, the purpose of which is to trumpet to the nation the news that after a very shaky period at the beginning of this decade, The Bee Gees are currently bigger and more popular than at any time during their career.

        In America, this is certainly true: they are selling albums in vast quantities, and the upcoming US tour takes them into the very largest arenas for the first time ever.

        A graph of The Bee Gees’ fortunes would form a sweeping curve in the shape of a large “U.” With the uppermost point on the left representing their early life as an Australian/British pop group following in the footsteps of The Beatles and the corresponding point on the right depicting their current status as tremendously popular exponents of light, catchy rhythm and blues.

        The low spot in the middle represents a murky period that was sparked off by their internal squabbling which lasted until their meeting with top producer Arif Mardin. It includes an embarrassing year when they were obliged to cancel a British tour because tickets didn’t sell, and a stint at Batley Variety Club which still gives Robin Gibb periodic nightmares.

        But all this is forgotten in the present period of Bee Gees renaissance. This week their Children Of The World album is at number 13 in the Cashbox chart, with a single, ‘Love So Right’, at number five, following a pattern of soul-oriented hits that began with ‘Jive Talking’ and included the marvellously melodic ‘Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)’ and the funkier ‘You Should Be Dancing’.

        It’s not surprising that the Gibb brothers are exuding a confidence these days that hasn’t been apparent since their initial breakthrough.

        Barry Gibb, the best-looking of the three, with his coiffured hair and neatly trimmed beard, is a natural leader, holding down most of the conversation.

        Maurice, now balding slightly, is perhaps more open and honest but is held down by Barry. Robin, of the buck teeth, fly-away hair and intense falsetto voice, limits himself to rather cynical quips, most of which include rather fruity language. Even so, they all tend to talk at once, frequently contradicting each other and indulging in arguments over small details.

        None of them, especially Robin, like to back down which may explain those curious episodes in their early career when the he split from the others and, according to legend, locked himself in a flat, took the phone off the hook and refused to communicate with the outside world for several weeks.

        What’s the reason for the current intense promotion? “The fact that the music is succeeding and our record company wants to promote us,” replied Barry.

        “Publicity is a key factor,” said Robin. “People say that if the music is there, you don’t need publicity, but tasteful publicity, well-done, isn’t harmful. People in America love this kind of thing. They like to have things put smack bang in their faces. They like to be told who and what to see.”

        “We’re enjoying it,” said Barry, always the more serious brother. “We’re enjoying the resurgence we’ve had in the last couple of years and we want to continue it. Our record company just wants to make sure it stays that way.”

        “We’re becoming bigger now than we ever were before,” said Robin. “In fact, we are bigger now than we ever were before. No-one would ever have thought that it would happen.”

        “In fact,” added Barry, “we’ve just been voted number one group in America.” But no sooner had he begun qualifying this remark (the result of a poll in Record World magazine) than Maurice, speaking for the first time, pointed out that this wasn’t to be released yet.

        I suggested that the real reason behind their comeback was their collaboration with legendary producer Arif Mardin, whose track record in the R&B field is second to none.

        “Yes,” agreed Barry. “He pointed us in the right direction and although we love that direction, it mustn’t be the be-all and end-all. We’re going to continue in that direction, but if we keep doing it for another five years, we’ll be back in the wilderness again.

        “This album (Children Of The World) doesn’t just have disco and R&B on it. It has different kinds of songs, even though everyone pointed out the R&B.

        “To us, there are other tracks on the album and on Main Course that could be hits as well. For The Bee Gees it’s not right to put those tracks out as singles yet. We just want to develop as much as we: can in every field and that’s something that we stopped doing a while back.”

        A while back, I said, referred to their low period then?

        “Yes, and that was when we started listening to black music,” said Barry.

        “We’ve always allowed people to influence us. The Beatles influenced us in the early days and before that Neil Sedaka influenced us. Now we let Stevie Wonder influence us. Two years ago we stopped listening to outside influences, people like Arif and others. We started writing songs that went in instead of out.”


11.12.20

ONE TWO THREE FOUR – THE BEATLES IN THEIR TIME by Craig Brown



If you share the belief that The Beatles were responsible for a collective madness that settled on the western world in the 1960s and which, in diminished form, lingers to this day, then this is the Beatles book for you. 

        Craig Brown is a comic author best known for his spoof diaries of celebrities in Private Eye magazine. His last book, Ma’am Darling; 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret, established a non-linear style of biography comprising snapshots from the life of its subject, in this instance a litany of largely unflattering facts and occurrences. He’s done much the same with this award-winning book on The Beatles, except it’s not unflattering, with a kind of ‘believe it or not this really happened’ air about it as he examines the Beatles phenomenon in great and often amusing detail. It’s also a clever idea, a cunning collage. 

        Brown is clearly a fan of The Beatles but he has done little, if any, original research for his book. In a lengthy bibliography at the back he lists his sources, which is just about every Beatle book of note to have been published in the last 50 years, plus scores of other books that refer to the group in passing. So, what he’s done is to read them all, extract the more bizarre manifestations of Beatlemania and relay them in his comic style, usually dryly and without comment. Taken together they offer an ‘alternative’ history of The Beatles or what Brown terms a ‘kaleidoscopic’ view of his subject. 

        Though the book won’t tell committed Beatlemaniacs anything they don’t already know, Brown has fun with his theme and it’s fun to read. Its 640 pages are divided into 150 chapters, almost all of them quite short, with plenty of lists, and things like fan letters and arcane trivia derived from seldom travelled tributaries of Beatle folklore. It’s the kind of book you can dip into and set aside without losing the plot; or read from back to front, which is apt because Chapter One, Brian Epstein’s first sighting, is repeated verbatim at the end of Chapter 150. 

        In investigating various incidents that occurred during the Beatles’ collective life that have become semi-legendary, Brown occasionally scrutinises accounts of individual episodes from several different books, comparing widely differing reports from separate eye-witnesses, the conclusion being that no two people recall things the same and we will never know what really happened (though Mark Lewisohn, of course, will beg to differ). For example, he dwells on John’s scrap with Cavern DJ Bob Wooler at Paul’s 21st birthday party in 1963, comparing no fewer than eight accounts that vary wildly in regard to the nature of the assault and extent of Wooler’s injuries. I was hoping he’d do the same for the 1966 incident in the Philippines where The Beatles inadvertently snubbed Imelda Marcos but he doesn’t, perhaps because all the accounts are the same. 

        Brown also digs deep into crevices that are mere footnotes in other Beatle books, like the fate of Jimmie Nichol, who briefly deputised for Ringo in 1964, and the feelings of the off-duty policeman at the wheel of the car that killed Julia Lennon. Only later did the driver discover the identity of his victim and the realisation that it was John Lennon’s mother has haunted him ever since.  

        Looming large towards the end of the book is Yoko, about whom Brown is circumspect in a rather droll fashion. Also featured at length is Norman Pilcher, the drugs squad police sergeant who made it his mission in life to bust rock stars, the more famous the better. However, Brown is wrong to state, on page 499, that in 1967 Pilcher “led the raid on Keith Richards’ house, Redlands, in West Wittering”. In fact, it was led by Chief Inspector Gordon Dineley from the West Sussex Police HQ in Chichester. Pilcher had nothing whatsoever do with the notorious Redlands bust, though it’s a pound to a penny that it inspired his pursuit of John, George, Brian Jones and sundry others.

        Brown’s reportage on Beatle tours of Liverpool is wryly amusing, as is his account of attending the annual International Beatleweek in Liverpool during August, presumably in 2019, which contains his most profound observation in the entire book. He’s watching a tribute band, one in an endless parade of similar acts, and, drawing a parallel with the 1970s TV show The Good Old Days, is reminded of lines from A E Houseman’s poem A Shropshire Lad: ‘The happy highways where I went, And cannot come again’.

        “But when they started to play ‘She Loves You’, and they sounded just like The Beatles and, to my fading eyes, looked just like them too – Paul arching his eyebrows and rolling his eyes to the ceiling, George slightly dreamy and distant, Ringo rocking his head from side to side, John with his legs apart, as through astride a donkey. I was witnessing something closer to a wonderful conjuring trick. One half of your brain recognises that these are not the Beatles: how could they be? But the other half is happy to believe that they are. It is like watching a play: yes, of course you know that the couple on stage are actors, but on some level you think they are Othello and Desdemona. The drama lies in the interplay of knowledge and imagination. And with the Fab Four, there is another illusion at work, equally convincing, equally transient: for as long as they play, we are all fifty years younger, gazing in wonder at the Beatles in their prime.”

        I liked that a lot and if, like me, you are convinced that The Beatles will forever tower above everyone else, One Two Three Four – The Beatles In Their Time substantiates that conviction in spades. 


9.12.20

In 2017 my old pal Glen Colson asked me to edit his memoirs. It was an onerous task. Glen has a wilful disregard for the correct use of language, his spelling is atrocious and his grasp of reality can sometimes be suspect. This meant I had to try and retain the author’s singular character while rendering it readable to those for whom English is their preferred means of communication. I hope I succeeded.

I am pleased to inform all those who know Glen that his book has now been published, privately by him. As well as dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, Glen asked me to write an introduction to his book. Here it is. 


Avid readers of Melody Maker’s Raver column in the early seventies became familiar with the name Glen Colson, often referred to on the page as ‘boy publicist Glen Colson (12)’. Some might have assumed that like Jiving K. Boots he was a fictitious character invented by Chris Welch who wrote MM’s gossip column each week. They would have been wrong. Glen was real. He was the publicist for Charisma Records and, even though he was long past the age of 12, his boyish charms endeared him to the staff of the paper to the extent that he got far more mentions in the column than the acts he represented.  

This was because Glen Colson was unquestionably our favourite publicist, and the reason for this was that, almost alone among the breed, he didn’t bullshit us. Charged with promoting Charisma’s acts and, later, elsewhere, he was unafraid to mention that he didn’t particularly like some of them. Other publicists wouldn’t dream of uttering a disparaging word about their clients but Glen didn’t seem to care one way or another. If he thought they were a bit dodgy he said so, and woe betide the consequences. Similarly, after he left Charisma, he declined to work for any act he didn’t much like regardless of how successful they were or how much they offered to pay him. He’d prefer to work for a complete unknown than say, The Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd, both of whom sought his services but were turned away because they were not to his taste, at least not when they approached him.

Another trait that endeared Glen to us on MM was his affable nature. He was eminently ‘pubbable’ – he was raised in a pub – as the saying goes, very funny in an oblique, droll kind of way, very down to earth, utterly self-effacing and lacking pretensions of any kind whatsoever. Height aside, there was something of the Rodney Trotter about Glen’s downtrodden status, his willingness to muck in and his thirst for arcane knowledge unattainable through formal education. 

Glen’s unique modus operandi had a sort of reverse impact on those he sought to influence. If he mentioned that he did like an act then it was a pound to a penny they were pretty good and worth checking out. A drummer by trade, he knew his music well, so his word carried an authority that the utterances of rival PRs didn’t. And the proof is in the pudding – virtually all the acts that Glen helped promote, whether on Charisma or elsewhere, are nowadays revered as either superstars or lost legends. 

I first encountered Glen in 1970 at La Chasse on Wardour Street. A private members club catering to the music industry, La Chasse became a sort of after-hours office for Charisma’s staff and acts. Holding court at the bar would be Glen’s boss Tony Stratton Smith, the worldly head of Charisma, surrounded by his workforce and his bands. Chief among them would be Gail Colson, Glen’s sister, Strat’s indispensable PA and consigliere, and scattered elsewhere were members of Genesis, Lindisfarne and Van Der Graaf Generator, their road crews and staffers like Paul Conroy and Chris Briggs, both of whom, like Gail, would go on to have illustrious careers in the music business. Glen, impishly small and looking very fresh-faced – hence the (12) – would be holding forth about the woes of Arsenal or telling one and all that whatever band was topping the LP charts that week was a ‘load of old rubbish’. He was prone to wild exaggeration in both directions. The opposite of ‘load of old rubbish’ was ‘the greatest thing I’ve ever seen or heard in my whole life’. The middle ground didn’t exist for Glen. 

We became good friends. Then again Glen befriended all the music writers in those days, but somehow the staff of Melody Maker seemed more congenial to him that those on NME and Sounds. We went to gigs together. One night we set off the fire alarm backstage at some gig at a college in North London. Can’t remember who the band was but there was hell to play. He was a member of the MM darts team that played the occasional fixture in a Soho pub against a team of good time girls who dressed as schoolgirls. We drank in The Nellie Dean, The Ship and the Marquee Club bar. Later, like all of us, he was often to be found slumped up against the bar in the Speakeasy. 

I became MM’s man in America in 1973 and in 1976 was still there, the paper’s US editor living in New York. Glen called me one day to announce that he was coming over to promote a show at the Beacon Theater by Van Der Graaf Generator and would need a place to stay when he was kicked out of whatever hotel Charisma was paying for. The quid pro quo was that in the meantime he’d buy me dinner there as often as I wanted. 

A few weeks on my couch became a few months but I didn’t care. I was glad of the company apart from when it interfered with my sex life, talking of which I was much bemused by a technique Glen had in this area that I’d never encountered before. While every other man on the planet was inclined to brag about his sexual prowess, Glen did the exact opposite, humbly claiming to be a virgin or ‘not much good at it’. Invariably the girl whose favours he was seeking felt a bit sorry for him and offered herself as a guinea pig on which he could experiment to improve his skills.

The following year Glen and I ended up working together at rock manager Peter Rudge’s Sir Productions, by which time he’d got his own flat somewhere downtown. Rudge looked after The Who’s American affairs, supervised the Stones’ tours and managed Lynyrd Skynyrd and three other groups but this sort of thing wasn’t really to Glen’s liking. Then he disgraced himself by getting caught taking a few rolls of Rudge’s loo paper home with him, so he quit and went back to London to work for Jake and Robbo at Stiff. 

A couple of years later, down on my luck, I was back in London, sleeping on Glen’s couch, so our roles were reversed. He introduced me to Elvis & The Attractions and threw out my flares. Back on my feet, I moved into a flat around the corner from him in Hammersmith and we became neighbours for the next ten years or more, friends for life, the kind of friendship where insults can be traded and laughed off because so much water has flown under the bridge. As the years passed I married and moved away and so, eventually, did Glen, but we still saw one another from time to time, still laughed at the same old stories of nights out in the early seventies, like the time that fire alarm went off or when we were on the lash in New York. 

It came as no surprise when Glen told me he’d written a book about his life and wanted me to ‘edit’ it. He’s widely read but can’t spell for toffee and his punctuation has a tempo all of its own, just like Scott Fitzgerald before Maxwell Perkins knocked his prose into shape. Still, he has a way with a story and has lived a life that many will envy, chock full of seat-of-the-pants adventures in the demi-monde of rock and roll involving a roll call of famous friends and many more who deserve to be. 

    Enjoy.

The book can be obtained by visiting this website: https://glencolson.com/

8.12.20

JOHN LENNON 1940-1980

To mark the 40th anniversary of the death of John Lennon I am posting on Just Backdated today the obituary of John that appeared in the book The Encyclopedia of Rock Obituaries by Nick Talevski, published by Omnibus Press in 1999. I make no apology for this because, in reality, the entry was written by Johnny Rogan and myself. Johnny and I jointly edited this 490-page book and decided along the way that certain entries for rock’s most major figures, among them Lennon, needed a fresh approach. As a result, Elvis, Keith Moon and a handful of others were re-written from scratch by us without objection from the author. 

This version has been slightly re-edited and/or corrected to take into account information that has come to light since the book was first published. Also, in accordance with current day thinking on the issue, the name of John’s killer is not mentioned. 


Picture by Bob Gruen

No rock death has caused such worldwide grief as that of John Lennon, senselessly gunned down outside his New York home by a deranged Beatle fan. From that day forward, all around the world, the image, legend and devotion surrounding The Beatles was never quite the same. 

As the pivotal member of The Beatles, Lennon was a towering figure in rock, universally respected for his achievements not just as a musician, singer and songwriter but as a spokesman for his generation, a peace campaigner and a romantic philosopher. At the time of his death he was re-emerging after a self-imposed five-year exile from music, feeling his way once again into the public consciousness. 

John Winston Lennon was born in Liverpool, England, a year after the start of World War II. His parents, Fred and Julia Lennon, split up when he was two. Julia Lennon gave up custody of young John to her sister Mary (Mimi) who raised him in a middle-class area of Liverpool. His seafaring father all but abandoned him, and his wayward mother, who lived close, visited her son on a regular basis until she was killed in a traffic accident when John was 17. 

By this time Julia had given John an inexpensive guitar and taught home some banjo chords. An impressionable teenager, he was eager to be a part of the British skiffle craze and in 1957 formed The Quarrymen with his friend Peter Shotton on washboard. He met Paul McCartney the same year at a church fete where The Quarrymen were performing. Impressing Lennon with his ability to tune a guitar, McCartney was brought on board and with the addition of a young guitarist, George Harrison, the group evolved into Johnny & The Moondogs.

Heavily influenced by American musicians, they swapped skiffle for R&B and rockabilly hits, but at the same time Lennon and McCartney began writing their own material together and occasionally performing these original songs. 

In 1959 Lennon attended Liverpool Art College where he befriended Stuart Sutcliffe, a talented painter, who the following year became the group’s bass player, and as The Silver Beatles they toured Scotland behind pop star Johnny Gentle. During this period Lennon was also mastering harmonica and tentatively learning piano.

In search of regular club work, in August of 1960 the group fled Liverpool with new recruit, drummer Pete Best, for the first of five spells performing in the red-light district of Hamburg, Germany. There, Lennon and the group would hone their musical skills in gruelling, several-hour-a-night performances. Returning to Liverpool much improved, The Beatles made the first of almost 300 appearances at the Cavern Club. Sutcliffe elected to stay in Hamburg and in October 1961, Brian Epstein first saw the group and became their manager. 

After failing an audition with Decca Records in January 1962, The Beatles were signed by George Martin to EMI’s Parlophone subsidiary. In August, Pete Best was replaced by Ringo Starr, another Liverpudlian who had befriended The Beatles in both Hamburg and their home city, and sat in with them when Best was unavailable. Lennon married his pregnant girlfriend Cynthia Powell in August, 1962. His first son Julian was born the following April.

The Beatles’ début British hit was the modest chart entry ‘Love Me Do’ (October 1962), followed by the chart-topping ‘Please Please Me’ (January 1963). Thereafter they could do no wrong in their home country, and the fan-driven chaos that followed in their wake was dubbed Beatlemania. They enjoyed a string of number one hits in Britain, all of them penned by Lennon & McCartney, and in so doing changed the face of pop music forever, establishing the self-contained ‘group’ as its dominant force, simultaneously wresting power from the music publishers and investing it in the artists and writers themselves.

In 1964 The Beatles conquered America, topping the US charts early in the year with ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’. On February 9, 1964, The Beatles captured the heart of America with the first of three appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. Rivalling only the early Elvis Presley in their domination of the charts, The Beatles transformed pop music during this period with hits like ‘From Me To You’, ‘She Loves You’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, the title track from their first film A Hard Day’s Night, and ‘I Feel Fine’. In April 1964, the group occupied the first five places in the Billboard Hot 100, a feat never repeated. By this time – a mere 18 months after ‘Love Me Do’ – The Beatles were the biggest pop group in the world, their fame on a par with anyone in the field of entertainment and even royalty. 

Lennon was already acclaimed as a powerhouse vocalist, most notably on the Beatles’ cover of the Isley Brothers’ ‘Twist And Shout’, which appeared on their début LP. He was also known for his word-play and clever song titles. His engaging Liverpool wit and love of puns were evident in two self-illustrated books of prose published during this period, In His Own Write (1964) and A Spaniard In The Works (1965). 

The Beatles’ success story continued throughout 1965, a year when they received MBE awards from the Queen and enjoyed chart-topping hits with ‘Ticket To Ride’ and the film theme ‘Help’, one of the first Beatles songs to expose Lennon’s insecurity at the height of his fame. In America McCartney enjoyed additional success with ‘Yesterday’, effectively a solo performance. The year ended with the double-sided number one ‘We Can Work It Out’/‘Day Tripper’ and the highly influential album, Rubber Soul, which featured several Lennon classics, among them the sarcastic, punning, Dylan-inspired ‘Norwegian Wood’, the titillating ‘Girl’ and the starkly autobiographical ‘In My Life’. 

In March 1966 Lennon created a furore by telling a British journalist that The Beatles “are bigger than Jesus”, a quote widely circulated but taken out of context by US teen magazines. The Beatles’ subsequent American tour was beset with problems, including public burnings of Beatles merchandise and death threats. It proved sufficient to convince the group to retire from public performance following their final concert at San Francisco on August 29. 

        Meanwhile, in the studio, their work continued in groundbreaking fashion. Revolver (1966) featured some of Lennon’s most adventurous work, most notably the world-weary ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, and two LSD-inspired compositions ‘She Said She Said’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. 

        After a long break in singles releases, the group returned in early 1967 with the brilliant double A-side ‘Penny Lane’/’Strawberry Fields Forever’. The latter was one of Lennon’s most striking and original works. This was followed by the summer release of one of rock music’s most famous albums, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. One of the great studio albums of the era, it revolutionised rock music with its complex array of electronic recording techniques, original ideas and strong lyricism. Lennon’s influence was notable on several of the tracks, including the psychedelic-tinged ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ (inspired from a drawing by his son Julian), ‘Good Moring, Good Morning’, ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite’ and the awe-inspiring ‘A Day In The Life’.

        Thereafter the group members slowly drifted apart. Lennon became the first Beatle to pursue a film role outside of the group, cutting his long hair for the role of Private Gripweed in Richard Lester’s black comedy How I Won The War. In August 1967, while The Beatles were studying transcendental meditation in Wales with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, their manager Brian Epstein died from a drugs overdose. Lennon was stunned by the news of his mentor’s death and later admitted it signalled the demise of The Beatles. 

        McCartney took the helm for their next venture Magical Mystery Tour, which included Lennon’s Edward Lear-influenced ‘I Am The Walrus’. Lennon continued to provide the group with startling compositions during this period, including ‘Revolution’, the B-side of ‘Hey Jude’, the first Beatles single to appear on Apple, their own record label. Over the next couple of years the group would record three more major albums, The Beatles (a double LP, aka The White Album), Abbey Road and Let It Be

        During this period Lennon became romantically involved with Japanese artist Yoko Ono, whom he had first met in 1966 at a London art gallery. By November 1968 he had divorced his wife Cynthia, and four months later, on March 20, he married Yoko in Gibraltar. The nuptials were immortalised in the autobiographical ‘The Ballad Of John And Yoko’, a Beatles single recorded without George and Ringo, and the group’s last UK number one single.

        By this point Lennon had effectively begun the second stage of his career, working with Ono on the avant-garde Unfinished Music No 1 – Two Virgins, distributed by Track Records after EMI objected to its full-frontal nude shot of the two artists. The audio-verite LP consisted of 30 minutes of voices, distorted instruments and various sound effects. This was rapidly followed by two further avant-garde experiments, Unfinished Music No 2 – Life With The Lions and The Wedding Album. Both offered snapshots of the pair’s eventful lives, including Yoko’s miscarriage and John’s protective pleading of guilty to a marijuana possession charge against the couple. 

        Lennon and Ono created more headlines when they embarked on a series of ‘Bed-In’ peace missions, inviting television crews to their room at the Amsterdam Hilton where they stayed in bed for a week “to register our protest against all the suffering and violence in the world”. 

        One month later, Lennon launched his next project, The Plastic Ono Band, whose single ‘Give Peace A Chance’, recorded at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel with the world’s media present, became a summer hit and remains a universal peace anthem to this day. It was followed by the harrowing ‘Cold Turkey’, Lennon’s brittle account of his withdrawal from heroin. Its release coincided with the return of his MBE to the Queen as a protest against Britain’s involvement in Biafra and against “’Cold Turkey’ slipping down the charts”.

        In September, an ad hoc version of The Plastic Ono Band, including Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman and Alan White, made a surprise appearance at The Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival Concert. An album, Live Peace In Toronto 1969 was issued at the end of the year. A third POB single, ‘Instant Karma’, produced by Phil Spector, once more displayed Lennon’s talents to the fore and rewarded him with another Top 10 hit in early 1970.

        Following the dissolution of The Beatles in April 1970, John and Yoko enrolled in Arthur Janov’s primal therapy programme, which inspired Lennon’s first solo album proper – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – one of the most lacerating and self-analytical records ever released by a popular performer. It remains the most accomplished work of Lennon’s post-Beatles period. The follow up, Imagine, was more successful commercially and its title track became one of Lennon’s most well-known and best-loved songs. 

        In September 1971, the Lennons settled in New York and John would never return to the UK. His involvement with politics was evident on the sloganeering ‘Power To The People’ while his quest for peace reached an unexpected apogee on the festive standard ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over)’, another Spector production. Embraced by New York radicals such as Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, John & Yoko teamed up with the bar band Elephant’s Memory in 1972 for the overtly politicised Some Time In New York City, which offered Lennon’s views on such topics as women’s liberation, the IRA and US prison riots.  

        By this time the Lennons had scaled down their public appearances, although they headlined at Madison Square Garden for the charitable One To One concerts. The following year Lennon released the accessible Mind Games whose standout title track proved a highlight.

        In the late autumn of 1973 Lennon temporarily separated from Yoko Ono in what he later called his “lost weekend”. Living in Los Angeles with May Pang and hanging out with drinking/drug buddies Harry Nilsson (whose Pussycats LP he produced), Ringo, Keith Moon and Jesse Ed Davis, Lennon’s occasionally foolhardy behaviour was well reported in the US press. 

        Despite his recklessness he managed to complete the melodic and accomplished Walls And Bridges, which included two major hits, a chart-topping duet with Elton John – ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’ – and the ethereal ‘#9 Dream’. Lennon’s final concert appearance occurred when he guested with Elton John at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 1974. Soon afterwards he reunited with Yoko.

        In 1975 he co-wrote and guested on ‘Fame’, David Bowie’s first US number one single, and resolved a long-standing legal dispute with music publisher Morris Levy by releasing Rock’N’Roll, a back to the roots album of covers that included songs to which Levy owned the rights and a modest US hit courtesy of Ben E. King’s ‘Stand By Me’.

        On October 9, 1975, Lennon and Ono’s son Sean Tara Ono Lennon was born. This triggered what was effectively Lennon’s retirement from professional music making for the next five years to become what he termed a “house husband”. Regularly targeted by the US government for his political views, it wasn’t until 1976 that he finally earned permanent residency status after a long legal battle that cast further doubt on the integrity of the now disgraced Nixon administration. Now assured that he could safely return to the US, Lennon visited Japan, the Bahamas and, curiously, South Africa during this period. 

        In late 1980 Lennon re-emerged into the public eye with a series of interviews promoting the comeback album Double Fantasy on which he and Yoko had recorded alternate tracks. Released just before Lennon’s death, the first single, a retro-sounding pop-rocker ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ was zooming up the charts. 

        John Lennon was shot dead outside his apartment building, the Dakota on Central Park West in New York City, shortly before 11 pm US Eastern Standard Time by an unstable 25-year-old man. The gunman, who did did not flee, was sentenced to 20-years-to-life at the Attica Correctional Facility where he remains to this day. 

        With Lennon’s death mourned on a worldwide scale Yoko Ono vowed to continue releasing Lennon material to keep his memory alive, and there have been several posthumous releases including boxed sets, books, some of doubtful authority, and videos. A reissue of ‘Imagine’ topped the charts in the month following the atrocity. 

        The passing years have done nothing to diminish John Lennon’s status as a giant of contemporary music. While at times he was inclined to disparage some of his Beatle music, he seemed towards the end to have come around to agreeing with the world that the group’s legacy is triple-locked, and that no matter how many pretenders may come and go, the crown The Beatles wear as pop’s greatest ever pop group is simply unassailable. Once viewed with some suspicion as a questionable influence on her husband, Yoko Ono has now emerged as a heroic figure in her own right, not just as a pioneering avant-garde artist and musician, but as an indefatigable peace campaigner and, like Olivia Harrison, a dignified Beatle widow. 

        In 100 Greatest Britons, a television series broadcast by the BBC in 2002, John Lennon came seventh, one place below Elizabeth I and one place above admiral Admiral Nelson. Paul McCartney, the only other pop musician in the Top 20, came 19th. 

 

Johnny Rogan’s book Lennon: The Albums was published by Omnibus Press in 2006 
and is still in print. 



5.12.20

SHEPHERDS BUSH & RCA – Part 3



Of course, the best logo that RCA Records ever had, albeit it only in America, was Nipper the dog listening to ‘his master’s voice’ on an old wind-up gramophone. It was used by several record companies, including the Victor Talking Machine Company, RCA’s predecessor, but in the UK it was best known as the logo of EMI’s HMV label. I still think it’s the best logo any record label has ever had, with Island a close second. 

Stepping out with RCA’s personnel manager while I was its Press Officer was chancing my arm but I didn’t care and having a live-in girlfriend while I was staying at Glen’s flat was never going to work either. So, when Jenny and I decided to become a couple I needed to find somewhere else for both of us to live. Combining our salaries, we rented a flat at 6 Gloucester Road in South Kensington, quite trendy. I don’t think Glen was too sad to see me go but in the event I would soon be back in that neighbourhood as a year later I would buy a basement flat in Nasmyth Street, just around the corner from his hideout in Dalling Road. 

        RCA had an account at an upmarket Chinese restaurant in Maida Vale called Pangs where Jenny and I ate a lot, usually washing our meal down with several Mai Tai’s. One night I was asked to join a party dining out with Al Stewart, another RCA artist, at the Mirabelle in Curzon Street where our group of eight, which included the company MD, somehow spent just over £800, about £3,500 in today’s money. Al, who was married to a daughter of the Martell brandy family, lived in Los Angeles and had expensive tastes. I’ll never forget him asking to see the ‘Port List’ and selecting a bottle for us, nor the eye-watering price of the many different wines he chose. 

        After the dinner the MD asked me where I lived and when I said South Kensington he said he was going that way and offered me a lift in his white Silver Shadow. He got out first and told me to keep the car, so after the most expensive meal I ever ate I was driven home in a Roller with a chauffeur in a peaked-cap. I wish my dear old mum could have seen me. 

        By far the best experience I had at RCA occurred in August 1980 when I took two journalists, one from New Musical Express and the other from the Sunday Times, to Chicago where David Bowie was appearing on stage at the Blackstone Theatre as John Merrick, the Elephant Man. The following month his album Scary Monster (And Super Creeps) was scheduled for release, and David had agreed to do two UK interviews to promote it. NME had promised me front page, and the Sunday Times front page of the magazine section. Our party was to stay at the luxurious Whitehall Hotel, from Monday to Friday.

         When we arrived in Chicago I was informed in no uncertain terms by ‘Bowie’s people’ that each journalist would be allotted just one hour in which to talk with him. This seemed not to be a problem for the Sunday Times man but it sat uneasily with Angus McKinnon from NME, who was aghast that he’d come all this way and was staying for four days in Chicago for a one-hour audience with DB. Additionally, McKinnon – unbeknownst to me – had brought along the Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn to take pictures exclusively for NME. This, said Bowie’s people, was out of the question.

         I thus found myself in the middle of a politically charged battle. On the one hand I was expected to respect the wishes of Bowie’s people, who represented the interests of RCA’s biggest star (and money-earner), yet at the same time I was beholden to the journalists who might renege on their page one agreements if the interviews were slight. This would put me in hot water with the hierarchy of RCA in London who had funded this expensive jaunt.

         “It’s up to you,” I told McKinnon. “If you can engage David in an interesting, stimulating interview and along the way make it clear to him that you need to talk for more than an hour, he might just overrule his minders. But if you bore him you’ll only get an hour. Oh – and mention Anton to him yourself.”

         So McKinnon did just that and David granted him not only extra time on the day of the interview but a further two hours the following morning. And – having already become aware of Corbijn’s growing reputation – he agreed to pose for him, both in his Elephant Man costume backstage at the theatre, and in the bar where McKinnon’s second interview took place.

         Bowie’s ‘people’ were furious with me for having been a party to what they considered a deception, but I couldn’t care less. Next week – the week that Scary Monsters was released – NME had a Corbijn picture of DB on the cover and five pages of McKinnon’s interview inside, and a month later a picture of DB in his Elephant Man loincloth, taken by the acclaimed Mary Ellen Mark, graced the front page of the Sunday Times colour magazine. David, as I suspected all along, knew far better than his advisors how to achieve maximum coverage.

I watched David on stage as the Elephant Man for three straight nights. He had to contort his body for the role and spoke with a strange, high-pitched accent in imitation of the real John Merrick. I came away hugely impressed, as did all the theatre critics who reviewed him when, after a month in Chicago, the play went to The Booth Theatre on Broadway in New York for a further three months. He was a true polymath and I am thankful that I had this slight relationship with him. Unfortunately, I had no further dealings with David Bowie who left RCA for EMI soon afterwards. 

On my way home from Chicago I spent a night at New York and looked up a few old friends. I stayed in the Essex House hotel on Central Park South and in the bar was propositioned by a coloured lady in a short dress who wanted $200 to come up to my room with me. I declined because I knew Jenny was waiting for me back home, but before I went to JFK to catch my flight I took a cab downtown and bought a pair of silver Onkyo HS-20 speakers that cost about $60. I had to pay £30 duty on them at Heathrow but they were a bargain really as they are still going strong after 40 years.

No sooner had I returned from New York than I found myself in Amsterdam for RCA’s European Sales Convention where Sad Café were the star guests. I brought along a few journalists, among them my old MM friend Chris Welch, for what was essentially a three-day binge costing an absolute fortune to very little purpose, but it was while I was there that Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham died. Chris was no longer working for MM but someone on the paper somehow got a message to me. They desperately needed a Bonham obituary, so we wrote one together and it appeared in MM under my byline. 

        Oddly enough, Chris Welch had been in New York with me when Keith Moon died almost two years ago to the day. For the sake of drummers everywhere we made a pact never to meet again outside the UK. 

A week or two after this excursion both Jenny and I were made redundant, as were several other RCA employees, all on the same day. It was a bit of a shock at the time but, in hindsight, it turned out to be a blessing. The reason given was “trading conditions resulting from the government’s economic policies”, and even though Thatcher was then putting all and sundry out of work I always thought there was a bit more to it than that. I didn’t really fit in at RCA. I wasn’t a natural PR because I found it difficult to bullshit, especially to music writers I’d known for ages who had become friends. I wasn’t very diplomatic. I didn’t like some of the acts on the label and wasn’t afraid to say so. I made a few enemies. Still, they gave me a £5,000 pay off – over £20k today – which was remarkably generous considering I’d worked there for less than two years.

I put most of it down as a deposit on the one-bedroom flat in Nasmyth Street. It cost £18,000, which seems ridiculous today. I lied about my employment status on a mortgage application and persuaded Shirley, my former RCA boss, to sign it off. When it came through Jenny and I went out to celebrate – at Pang’s on my RCA account. A few days later the bill arrived on Shirley’s desk. “Last time,” she said, laughing. “And no more fucking Hertz cars either.” 

For the next three years I earned a precarious living as a freelance rock writer, a fragile existence if ever there was one. But that’s another story.